Let's rewind to Sept. 6, one of the worst days for Big Ten football in recent memory.
Ohio St. lost 35-21 at home in front of a national audience on ESPN to an unranked Virginia Tech team. Iowa needed a late rally to squeak by Ball St., 17-13. Michigan was shutout for the first time since the Reagan presidency against Notre Dame, losing by an embarrassing scoreline of 31-0. Michigan St. played a solid first half on the road against Oregon, but the defense tired and the floodgates opened in the second and, before you knew it, the Ducks were up by two touchdowns and didn't slow down. And I'm sure you remember it well, but just to remind you, our Wildcats lost 23-15 to Northern Illinois in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
In a span of 12 hours, the B1G went from a conference with four teams in the top-20 and two in the top-10 to a Twitter punchline that has virtually no chance of sending a representative to the inaugural College Football Playoff. That's not usually a good thing-- as a Northwestern fan, one should always hope for the B1G to succeed. That way, each conference win looks more and more credible and help the teams within that strong conference get into better bowl games.
But this year is a bit different. Instead of hoping to build a resumé that earns the 'Cats a spot in a big-time bowl, Northwestern will be trying desperately to find a way to scrape out six victories and become bowl eligible. Quality of wins aren't as important when you have zero wins, total. NU will take anything it can get right now, and they're in luck. NU's down year (at least so far) as coincided perfectly with the B1G's down year, so all may not be lost in Evanston.
When you look at Northwestern's schedule, five or six wins seems a lot more plausible than it does when watching the Wildcats actually play football. The 'Cats avoid the two best teams in the conference in Ohio State and Michigan St. thanks to the B1G being split into two divisions. They'll have to play Notre Dame on the road (that didn't work out too well for Michigan and it probably won't for the 'Cats, either), but get cracks at Nebraska, Michigan, and Wisconsin all at Ryan Field. NU also plays Purdue this year, and no matter how bad things might be for Northwestern football, they are ten times worse for Purdue, who was embarrassed on that fateful September day 38-17 against Central Michigan in front of their home crowd.
There's not many things to be thankful for as a Northwestern football fan, but being a member of the B1G is one of them this season. The 'Cats aren't a good team, but the Big Ten isn't a good conference, so their final record might not be as bad as you might think despite the putrid start.